Jean Vanier: Portrait of a Free Man (Book Review)

We live in a world that makes a fuss over men who run around chasing each other and throwing balls for a living. We make idols of surgically-enhanced actors or actresses in superhero constumes or singers who leave their pants at home when they perform. We love spectacle. We love drama. We love obnoxious, outrageous behavior. But, much of the time, the true heroes are those who live out of the limelight, serving their fellow humans every day with whatever resources they have.

The book Jean Vanier: Portrait of a Free Man by Anne-Sophie Constant is the story of a true hero. Jean Vanier was a hero to all the people whose lives he touched through his love, kindness, and practical care. He was a man who quietly lived to serve people whom society would call “the least of these”. He saw each person inside the disability or deformity that would send most of us running in the opposite direction. He saw their worth, and even, their beauty.

Jean was not planning to spend his adult life in this way: he had been in the navy, then lived a very religious life of meditation and prayer, and, for a short time, as a professor.

What changed him was a visit to a care home for those with intellectual disabilities and his interactions with two of the men there. “I heard this mute cry…a cry inviting me to be their friend.” After that visit, he couldn’t stop thinking about those people. So he began to visit the places where disabled people were kept and he was appalled by the miserable conditions in which they lived.

Jean decided to purchase a small house and invite some of the disabled men to live with him. At this point he had no financial plan to support them, but acted out of the impulse of love. And just by being willing to take the first step and reach out to those in need, the rest of what was needed followed. People volunteered to serve, a board of directors was formed, Jean chose the name “L’Arche”, and they began a life of community, of family, in this little home in Trosley in the North of France.

What began as a way to serve the needs of a handful of people with disabilities flourished into a worldwide movement. Today there are 154 L’Arche communities worldwide on 5 continents. When I visited the L’Arche website, with all those beautiful faces, my respect grew even more for Jean Vanier and his life of love and service.

I highly recommend this book, which will be published on August 4th, to those who want to read about people who really made a difference in the world and whose legacy continues to change lives after they’ve passed on. Jean Vanier’s life made a difference to many and will continue to do so for years to come.

I received a free e-galley from Net Galley, but all opinions are completely my own.

Evening Poetry, June 2

From Rilke’s Book of Hours by Rainer Maria Rilke

I love you, gentlest of Ways,

who ripened us as we wrestled with you.

You, the great homesickness we could never shake off,

you, the forest that always surrounded us,

you, the song we sang in every silence,

you dark net threading through us,

You began yourself so greatly

on that day when you began us—

and we have so ripened in your sunlight,

spreading far and firmly planted–

that now in all people, angels, madonnas,

you can decide: the work is done.

Let your hand rest on the rim of Heaven now

and mutely bear the darkness we bring over you.

I, 25

Inspiration (Links I Love)

This is where I will share my sources of inspiration from the past week: it could be from books, podcasts, blogs, films, artwork, food/recipes, etc. I hope you find some encouragement here as well!

Trees

Yes, you read that right! Trees. There is research to support what we know–that being outside does a body good. They help us de-stress, benefit our overall health, and even help us socially. Read this article!

Podcasts

This week I listened to some notable podcasts! How I Built This with Guy Raz is a podcast featuring owners/founders of successful companies like Burt’s Bees, Lyft, and Zappos. I am usually inspired by their stories of starting small and building something big and all the obstacles and struggles they had to overcome along the way.

My recent favorite is the episode with farm-to-table movement founder Alice Waters, who’s been cooking at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, CA since 1971. What a lovely woman with such a lovely vision for local, sustainable, ethical food. Listen here!

This What Should I Read Next episode featured Michele Cobb, publisher of AudioFile Magazine talking all things audiobooks with Anne. She gave some great recommendations and also talked about the free summer audiobook program for teens called SYNC. This is fourteen weeks of free audiobook downloads: two each week! If you have teens at home, see if they know about it.

Seth Godin’s podcast, Akimbo, had an episode that I wish every person would listen to, but especially entrepreneurs, small business owners, and thoughtful people everywhere. In the episode BREATHE, Seth talks about the status quo and the environmental crisis the world is facing as a result of marketing gone bad. Please listen to this one, think about it, and have conversations with friends and family. The planet’s future is up to us.

Books

I just finished On The Come Up by Angie Thomas. I listened to it on audio and the main character, Bri, a teen who has a gift for rapping, definitely grew on me as the book progressed. The narrator does a fantastic job of bringing all the characters’ personalities to life. The parts about her church experiences are very entertaining and I could definitely relate to some of it-especially the length of the services! Highly recommended–especially in audio. I listened to The Hate U Give also by Angie Thomas last summer and it opened my eyes to experiences that are part of everyday life for some people that are very different from mine. Also recommended on audio!

As far as poetry goes, I finished Otherwise by Jane Kenyon. I’ve been featuring plenty of her poems in Evening Poetry probably because the subjects she writes about: living in the country, her family, her religious upbringing, her mental illness, and her everyday experiences hit home. When poetry “gets you in the gut”, as my friend Britt wrote to me a few weeks ago, then you know it is speaking your language.

Music

English folk singer/songwriter/musician Kate Rusby’s album just came out!!! It’s called Philosphers, Poets and Kings and it is just the sort of beautiful, original music fans that like me love her for. This is a must listen!

Alright, that’s all for this week! I’d love to hear about what’s been inspiring you lately in the comments.

Evening Poetry, May 29

A Birthday

by Christina Rossetti

My heart is like a singing bird
                  Whose nest is in a water’d shoot;
My heart is like an apple-tree
                  Whose boughs are bent with thickset fruit;
My heart is like a rainbow shell
                  That paddles in a halcyon sea;
My heart is gladder than all these
                  Because my love is come to me.

Raise me a dais of silk and down;
                  Hang it with vair and purple dyes;
Carve it in doves and pomegranates,
                  And peacocks with a hundred eyes;
Work it in gold and silver grapes,
                  In leaves and silver fleurs-de-lys;
Because the birthday of my life
                  Is come, my love is come to me.

You can find this poem in The Complete Poems by Christina Rossetti.

She’s My Dad (Book Review)

I have to be honest: when the invitation to read this e-galley popped up in my inbox, my very first reaction was that I wasn’t interested. Why? For the boring reason that I don’t know anyone who has transitioned gender, so I didn’t think it was something I needed to read.

My next thoughts countered my initial reaction: I needed to become a more diverse reader. I needed to read more books that were completely outside of my personal experience and outside of my comfort zone. I needed books that challenged my pre-conceived ideas, my natural aversions to certain subjects, my tendency to read about subjects I felt familiar with. So I accepted the invitation to read She’s My Dad: A Father’s Transition and a Son’s Redemption by Jonathan Williams with Paula Stone Williams.

Right away, I realized I did have something in common with the author and his father. They came from an Evangelical, non-denominational church culture that took the Bible as objective truth and considered it the Word of God. This was the culture I was steeped in my whole life until just a few years ago.

This culture said they loved the LGBTQIA community, but because of a handful of Biblical passages, considered the queer lifestyle sinful and wouldn’t allow anyone in the LGBTQIA community to join the church, serve in the church, be baptized, etc. Does that sound like love to you? Nope, I didn’t think so.

This story is centered around an Evangelical thirty-something pastor, Jonathan, and his dad, Paul (also a pastor). Paul comes out to his family and tells them he’s a woman. He changes his name to Paula, begins hormone therapy, and begins to act and dress as a woman: hair, makeup, clothing, etc. He loses his job as a pastor and has to start his life over.

Although the book is interspersed with a few chapters from Paula’s perspective, it is mainly about how Jonathan, as a son, deals with his father’s gender transition, both internally and externally.

He has to grapple with the grief, anger, denial, and the decision whether or not to accept his father as woman. He has to deal with the effects of the rejection his father experiences once his transition becomes public. He has to decide what to do about the church network he’s a part of that does not welcome gay or transgender people. He has to look at the Bible in new ways and think long and hard about theology that he has always believed to be true.

As so often happens when I read or listen to the story of the “other”, someone who seems so different from me, I discovered common ground. In addition to growing up in a similar church culture, I also experienced rejection from the church as a result of my decision to divorce. Whether it was letters and “return to God” messages or the “Great Silence” that accompanied disapproval, disappointment, and an ineptitude for dealing with someone who stepped out of the box, I experienced rejection as well, although on a much less dramatic level than Paula and Jonathan.

I am glad my better nature won the day I was deciding whether to read this book. It has been helpful for me to learn about gender transition and to think about how much of the Christian church has failed to show love, humility, and grace to those it doesn’t have a doctrinal box for. And how parts of the church are showing up and just loving people no matter what. I’m grateful that Jonathan shared the journey of how he dealt with his dad’s transition. If you are interested in transgender issues in the Evangelical church, I recommend She’s My Dad by Jonathan Williams.

Evening Poetry, May 27

May

by Christina Rossetti

I cannot tell you how it was;

But this I know: it came to pass

Upon a bright and breezy day

When May was young; ah, pleasant May!

As yet the poppies were not born

Between the blades of tender corn;

The last eggs had not hatched as yet,

Nor any bird foregone its mate.

I cannot tell you what it was;

But this I know: it did but pass.

It passed away with sunny May,

With all sweet things it passed away,

And left me old, and cold, and grey.

You can find this poem in Rossetti: Poems.

Evening Poetry, May 23

Let Evening Come

by Jane Kenyon

Let the light of late afternoon

shine through chinks in the barn, moving

up the bales as the sun moves down.

Let the cricket take up chafing

as a woman takes up her needles

and her yarn. Let evening come.

Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned

in long grass. Let the stars appear

and the moon disclose her silver horn.

Let the fox go back to its sandy den.

Let the wind die down. Let the shed

go black inside. Let evening come.

To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop

in the oats, to air in the lung

let evening come.

Let it come, as it will, and don’t

be afraid. God does not leave us

comfortless, so let evening come.

This poem can be found in Otherwise by Jane Kenyon.